This entry is part 8 of 15 in the series Journey to Nowhere

by Judson AKA GUDoug

GUDougI’ve been pretty down on tutors for a while now.  If I had to blame an incident or moment in time where this happen I don’t  think I could pin-point anything with any certainty.  Maybe it was with the printing of any number of new cards that can single handedly dominate a game and the redundant easy everyone seems to fetch and summon them for their bidding, the ever increasing ridiculousness of what the new tutors are capable of (good or bad in actual application), or the slow but steady elevation in the number of tutors that I witnessed both within my playgroup and online.  Or it could have been my desire to get closer to the Highlander aspect of format.  Maybe just maybe it was that I started making a lot of theme decks with few to no tutors and saw a deck could work just fine with out them, and often times the randomness was more enjoyable then every game playing out the same. How many tutors are too many: 1, 2, 4, 8, more?  That is a really hard question to answer when everyone has their own expectations, version of how to play, and idea of what is acceptable.  All while the format is without expectation and is lacking definitive/consistent rules regarding what is acceptable to play and not play.  A social contract is only as solid as the least abiding of its followers.

Cruel TutorSure, EDH may have a shiny new name in Commander, but it will always be Elder Dragon Highlander to me.  Being a highlander format, there can only be one of each card.  It has been beaten to death on the podcast by mostly Andy, but some others as well, that with all the redundant broken tutoring with really no drawback entrenched in the game these days the idea of being restricted to one copy of a certain card really isn’t that much of a restriction.  It came to a point in my playing career that it was pretty easy to make a deck play exactly the same almost every game by heavy tutoring and manipulation, and when all was said and done the outcome was boring and unfulfilling.

Like is the story with so many other EDH players, as soon as my first deck was built and played I was quickly on to building another.  As I have mentioned a few times in my articles, the first deck I threw together over four years ago was Rhys the Redeemed, which was quickly followed by Doran, the Siege Tower, and then by an endless stream of comers and goers.  Rhys and Doran were two decks I never thought I would take apart, and then it happened.  About two or three months ago Doran was decommissioned, taken apart, and salvaged so deeply and thoroughly that all that is left is a few decklists  on the internet (want to see click here) and a small pile of lonely cards that have yet to find a home.

What brought about this sea change?  Many things rang it’s demise.  First it was never a deck that had a specific game plan in mind as it could combo, grind, win fast, win slow, attrition, control, be aggressive, or just ramp real fast and Genesis Wave/Exsanguinate everyone.  The only real criteria it had was that everything needed to be a “must deal with threat” or be an efficient means to a “must deal with threat.”  It was a giant pile of good stuff staples, that being the good stuff that is good cards and not just value engine slop, although it could do that too.  I tired of decks made of staples, and this was one worse as it was also a big pile of tutors.  It seemed like every game that I played had me ramping out something gross real fast that screwed the game or I X-ed out the table.  All of which was facilitated mostly by tutoring.  Looking inside the deck and not counting ramp spells, let’s see all these tutors.

That is twelve tutors, which sadly I feel like is no longer considered a lot by many people.  Add to this list three fetchlands and four land tutors that brings the count up to 19 cards.  Outside of tutoring there are nine draw effects and ten cards in the deck to interact with the graveyard.  By the time Doran got the axe he was rarely played do to boredom, and only really came out when I felt like I need a “better” deck, but it usually led to less than fun games to prove a point.

It was around this time of upwelling disillusionment with tutors that I played against one of the most egregious tutor heavy decks I have ever seen.  I was playing online so that probably had a lot to do with it, but I could easily see someone building a similar deck.  From what I remember here are a list of tutors I specifically remember being played from the deck that was Grixis piloted by Nicol Bolas.

So those are the 22 that I am positive were in the deck, but my memory fails me a little as I want to say there were more but can’t with certainty.  Along with the for sure 22 tutors (probably more) there was a full array of cards that allowed cards to be returned from the graveyard to hand, cast from the graveyard, or reshuffled into the deck.  Then add in on top of that many brainstorm type digging/top of the deck manipulation cards, multiple draw sevens, and Sensei’s Divining Top with a 1000 fetchlands.  Basically the game involved this player tutoring, tutoring, shuffling, wiping the board, shuffling, playing artifacts and copying artifacts, playing draw sevens, shuffling, wiping the board, tutoring, tutoring, playing artifacts and copying artifacts, playing cards from the graveyard, shuffling, tutoring, etc.  The deck wasn’t even particularly fast.  It just kept durdling with tutors for cards to draw cards or to waste 2 tutors to grade an artifact to ramp with.  Eventually a Megrim and a Liliana’s Caress or just a copy enchantment showed up, and draw seven spells with copy effects and a Memory Jar activation killed the table.  I have no problem with the win condition as it was pretty neat but the means at which it was gotten to was pretty disgusting to me.

For some time now every deck that I have built is fairly tutorless (aside from ramp cards and fetches).  I have allowed a few more tutors recently, like in my Vela the Night-Clad deck that has a Demonic Collusion and Fabricate, or my most recent build Savra, Queen of the Golgari Common/Uncommon deck that has a Demonic Tutor and Diabolic Tutor in it.  I even broke down and bought (and by bought I mean got on PucaTrade, check it out!) a Birthing Pod for my beloved retooled Asmira, Holy Avenger deck that had no tutors, as it is only kind of a tutor.  For the most part though the motto is “the less tutors the better” and even in my older decks full of tutors I have found it easier to cut tutors when making changes than an actual card.  For instance in my Shirei deck I just cut Diabolic Tutor for a Trading Post, and my Rhys deck lost Sterling Grove and a non-tutor for Champion of Lambholt and Druids’ Repository.  Here is a list of my current stable of decks in order of oldness and their respective tutor counts.
Older Decks 30 Tutors in 6 Decks
Rhys the Redeemed (list) – 8
Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker (list) – 5 (down from 8-10 tutors)
Asmira, Holy Avenger (list at bottom) – 1 if you count Birthing Pod (old version had 13-14 tutors)
Verdeloth the Ancient (out of date decklist) (Soon to be axed) – 6
Numot, the Devastator (list) – 7
Zur the Enchanter Geriatric theme (list) – 3
Newer Decks – 9 tutors in 7 Decks
Tariel, Reckoner of Souls Grim Reaper theme (link) (needs updating) – 0
Brion Stoutarm $35ish deck (link) – 4
Kresh the Bloodbraided Gladiator Theme (list) – 0
Vela the Night-Clad (list) (still working on this) – 2
Maelstrom Wanderer (list) – 1 if you count Birthing Pod
Rubinia Soulsinger 2112 theme (list) – 0
Savra, Queen of the Golgari Common/Uncommon (list)- 2

One of the instance where I am willing allow myself to play more tutors is when I build a theme deck or something with heavy construction restraints.  The reason being that since there is usually a pretty rigid restriction on what cards are available to use, the deck probably needs all the help it can get.  If a tutor happens to fall into the criteria to make the card pool I will be more than happy to add it.  The biggest example of this is my Brion Stoutarm deck which started off as a $20 deck and then slowly worked its way to a comfortable $35ish.  To help the deck run more smoothly, and put it on a more even footing with other decks, there are tutors like Totem-Guide Hartebeest, Sunforger, Hoarding Dragon, and Taj-Nar Swordsmith.  All four of these are pretty restrictive on what they fetch but help push the deck towards a more non-restrictive while still not breaking the restriction for the deck.

So if you cut down on the amount of tutors in a deck what are the best ways to compensate for their loss?  One of the easiest ways is to just add more card draw.  This is the lazy man’s answer to trying to find certain cards without tutors.  It can do the trick sometimes but can be resource intensive, cumbersome, and result in many a pitched card or wasted turn.  That being said an extra draw effect or two is not a horrible idea.  I prefer a solution that relies more on solid deck building.  That is not to say that playing with tutors isn’t solid deck building, although in some instances it can make you lazy like when you tutor for Tooth and Nail and then use that to win every game.  In that instance your deck is just a pile designed to find one card.  When building without tutors you just need to be more cognizant of what you want your deck to do and what elements you need to accomplish that.  Then once you know those elements, deck construction is then just a matter of  ensuring that you provide your deck with enough redundancy to accomplish that and resources to make it work.  For instance, if you need sacrifice outlets and ways to return sacrificed creatures to the battlefield you have to have enough copies of each effect to ensure that without tutoring you can have both elements relatively easily with the an allotted amount of turns and then in  play.  It really isn’t that hard to do and can often make a deck really consistent with or without tutors.  Without tutors though you definitely get the feeling that each game is unique and different even though your game plan is the same.  You are just achieving your goals with different combinations of cards each time.

If you are getting tired of your decks playing out exactly the same each game with the same cards leading to stale and stagnant experiences, try cutting down on tutors.  Open your deck up to play more copies of cards with similar effects, and try to make your deck function without tutoring.  The experience is almost always going to have a unique feeling and often times can lead to finding and discovering new favorite cards and interactions.  I can honestly say I don’t really see myself turning back down a tutor heavy path unless for some reason I feel the need to do it to prove a point.  I would rather enjoy my tutorless/tutor-lite existence.


Email me at: judsonjg(at)yahoo(dot)com
Follow me on Twitter:!/GUDoug

Series Navigation<< JOURNEY TO NOWHERE 08 – Are Polished Turds Still Turds?<< Journey to Nowhere 07 – 2112 the Song the DeckJOURNEY TO NOWHERE 10 – You Kids and Your Newfangled Graveyard Hate or: When I Was Your Age I Had To Walk Uphill Both Ways To Hate a Graveyard >>